‘A blessing for the country’ how The Irish Times greeted the Good Friday drink law in 1927

Newspaper editorial praises minister for tackling Ireland’s ‘greatest menace’

Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street, Dublin, in 1953. Irish pubs have been closed on Good Friday since 1927.

Mulligan’s of Poolbeg Street, Dublin, in 1953. Irish pubs have been closed on Good Friday since 1927.

 

Today, for the first time in 91 years, you can (legally) buy a pint of beer, or a glass of wine, or any other alcoholic drink in a pub. The legislation which introduced the ban, The Intoxicating Liquor Act, was published on February 11th, 1927, and if it caused anxiety among publicans, it was greeted with unbridled glee by the leader writer of the following day’s Irish Times.

The writer praised the minister for justice Kevin O’Higgins for having the courage to face down threats from the vintners lobby in a general election year, adding that the reforms “ought to meet with the approval of all sensible men” because they were, after all, “striking at the root of Ireland’s greatest menace”.

The proposals set out a suite of regulations concerning opening hours and licensing, and had been, the newspaper noted, “causing such a fluttering in the dovecotes of the licensed trade”.

The paper noted that “undoubtedly the Bill will be subjected to severe and well-organised criticism in its passage through the Oireachtas; for all the resources of the “trade’’ are likely to be mobilised against it.”

Nearly a century later, the trade can stand down its troops.

Reproduced below is the text of The Irish Times editorial, February 12th, 1927.

The text of the Free State Intoxicating Liquor Bill, which has been causing such a fluttering in the dovecotes of the licensed trade, was issued yesterday.

It follows closely the published forecasts of its provisions, and may be said, with certain modifications, to embody the main proposals of the Liquor Commission of 1925. We may say at-once that, in our opinion, it is an excellent measure.

The Minister for Justice has had the courage of his convictions, and, despite the threats of the “trade” in regard to the forthcoming general election, has insisted on drastic reforms which ought to meet with the approval of all sensible men.

The Bill falls into three main categories. The first deals with hours of sale, the second with the endorsement of licences, and the third with the all-important question of the reduction of the number of public houses in the Free State.

So far as hours of sale are concerned, the Bill ought to give general satisfaction. Mr O’Higgins proposes that henceforward public-houses in the county boroughs shall be open on ordinary week-days from 10 am until 10pm, with a two hours’ interval from 3 to 5 o’clock in the afternoon, during which no drink may be sold.

On Saturdays the hours will be from 10am until 9.30pm, with the same afternoon interval, while on Sundays and St Patrick’s Days drink may be sold only between the hours of 2 and 5 pm. Christmas Day and Good Friday will be completely “dry”.

The hours for smaller towns and rural areas will vary slightly from those in the county boroughs, and hotels, restaurants, theatres, clubs, and railway station refreshment rooms will be granted certain carefully defined privileges. Bona fide travellers will be recognised within ten miles of the cities, and six miles of country centres.

Conviction

In regard to the endorsement of licences, the process will be automatic. In other words, when a trader is convicted of an offence under the Act, his conviction will be recorded on his licence; the District-Justice will have no discretionary powers.

An appeal, however, will lie to the Judge of the Circuit Court, who will have power, although he may confirm the conviction, to cancel the endorsement of the licence. There will be no appeal from the Circuit Court. The “life-time” of endorsements will vary.

In the case of a first conviction, a licence will be endorsed for a period of five years; a second offence will be recorded for seven years, and a third, or any subsequent offence, for ten years. At the end of every period the offender will begin again with a clean slate; but, if he should happen to be convicted three times in any one “life-time” his licence will be forfeited.

All licence holders, we presume, will start from scratch under the new Act: that is to say, no existing endorsement will be counted for unrighteousness against them. We fail to understand why the “trade” should make such a pother about these provisions.

Under the Act of 1924 there was an appeal against a conviction from a District Court to the High Court, and by changing the court of appeal to the Circuit Court the Minister has made a distinct concession to the publicans.

Furthermore, there has been far too much laxity concerning technical offences in the past. There can be no excuse for systematic law-breaking, and no licence holder who conducts his premises in a proper way need have the slightest cause for anxiety under the new Bill.

Automatic endorsement is a salutary principle; and, now that the interests of the trader are being safeguarded by the right of appeal to a Circuit Court, he has no legitimate’ grievance.

Finally, we come to the most vexed question of all namely, the reduction of licences. The Bill provides that the Free State shall be divided into areas which will be identical with those over which District Justices possesses summary jurisdiction.

Too many licences

If, in any area the Civic Guard authorities consider that there are too many licences, they can apply in the first instance to the District Court for a reduction. If the District Justice is satisfied that a prima facie case exists, firstly, for the reduction in the number of licences; and, secondly, for abolition in a particular ease, he will refer the matter to the Circuit Judge, who, aided by a registrar and an assessor, will be the compensating authority; and he will decide the case.

When a licence is abolished, compensation will be paid to the holder by the Ministry for Finance, on receipt of the compensating authority’s order, and the full sum will be repaid to the Ministry by the remaining licence holders in the area.

Repayment will be made over a period of twenty years by terminable annuities at the rate of seven and a half per cent, per annum of the amount in question, divided among the existing licence holders in proportion to the amount of excise duty which they pay. This arrangement is scrupulously fair. Obviously, the publicans in any area will benefit by the extinction of their rivals’ licences, and equity demands that they should bear the full cost.

Altogether, the bill is a courageous and valuable measure. It will not solve the drink problem in the Free State, and we should like to have seen the abolition of “mixed” trading in the rural districts. Nevertheless, Mr. O’Higgins has taken an important step in the right direction.

Undoubtedly, the Bill will be subjected to severe and well-organised criticism in its passage through the Oireachtas; for all the resources of the “trade’’ are likely to be mobilised against it. We hope, however, that Mr. O’Higgins will stand fast. He is striking at the root of Ireland’s greatest menace, and the enactment of his Bill will be a blessing for the country.